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Child Custody Protection Act - Continued

Location: Washington, DC

CHILD CUSTODY PROTECTION ACT--Continued -- (Senate - July 25, 2006)


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today the Senate considered legislation that proponents claim will reduce the number of abortions. But in reality everyone knows this legislation will do little to lower the number of abortions, and it will do even less to protect the role of parents in our society. In a move that is all too typical of the coarsening partisanship of this city and of this Congress, instead of bringing before the Senate legislation that could actually reduce the number of abortions, the Senate Republican leader decided to just check another on the Republican ``To Do'' list before election day this November.

It is sad that the Senate has missed this opportunity to enact legislation to reduce teen pregnancy. Every Senator agrees that we should do more to reduce incidences of teen pregnancy. And yet the bill debated in the Senate today is little more than a political stunt that will do little to reduce the number of abortions.

This is not the first time we have faced legislation like this which reflects a political calculus, not a policy consideration. In 1998, just prior to that year's election, the Republican leadership brought forward a similar bill. I opposed that legislation as well, as it failed to take meaningful steps towards reducing abortions and because it threatened to endanger victims of rape, incest, or abusive family situations.

If the Senate Republican leadership were really serious about reducing the number of abortions among young women, they'd get serious about efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Research shows that reducing unintended pregnancies significantly reduces the rate of abortion. And the good news is that we know what works to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. In fact, the amendment offered by Senators LAUTENBERG and MENENDEZ earlier today, which I cosponsored, would take meaningful steps to reduce teen pregnancy. Communities need to provide education for our children so they understand the serious consequences of their decisions; we need to support effective, existing after-school programs that provide academic enrichment for at-risk kids; and we need to invest in new efforts to help reduce teen pregnancy.

If the Senate leadership were really serious about reducing the number of abortions, they would get serious about providing support for foster care and adoption. Instead, last year this Congress limited the number of children eligible for foster care and reduced funding for state foster care systems. What kind of family values does that represent?

If the Senate leadership were really serious about reducing the number of abortions, we would address the problems that working families face in raising their children. We would increase the minimum wage and extend the earned income tax credit so that the decision whether to have an abortion is not based on whether there is enough money to support the child.

This is where we should be focusing our energy--on providing families with the tools they need to raise a family; on providing mothers with the care they need to carry out their pregnancies, and on educating our teens about the consequences of their actions.

But then again, the Child Custody Protection Act isn't intended to reduce teen pregnancies. In fact, it accomplishes very little except to risk taking a very young victim of rape or incest--a victim of an abusive family situation--someone who is just plain scared--and putting someone they turn to at risk of criminal prosecution, jail time and fines if they decide to help a minor with one of the most painful decisions a person could be asked to make. It targets the most vulnerable minors--those needing the most help because of poor family relations or even serious abuse--and makes it more difficult for them to receive critical advice and support.

Is it right to punish a victim of incest by forcing her to get consent from the very person who impregnated her? What rational person wouldn't agree that she has been victimized enough already? Is it really smart, or fair, or right to punish and remove the caring adult who a young woman in this situation is relying on to get her through such an ordeal? Is it right to consider sending a grandparent, a clergy member, a doctor, or a counselor to prison if a terrified young woman has nowhere else to turn?

This discussion isn't about most families. If one of my daughters were in a terrible situation, I believe they could and would turn to me or to their late mother. I know they could. I think every one of us in the Senate know our children would turn to us in a time of desperation. That is how we raised our kids. Ideally all young women facing an unplanned pregnancy will turn to their parents for guidance when faced with this kind of decision. And in most cases they do. In fact, one study found that the overwhelming majority of parents in states without mandatory parental involvement laws knew of their child's pregnancy. But 30 percent of young women who did not tell their parents about their decision did so out of fear of violence in the family or fear of being forced to leave home. What does that tell you about these situations? It tells you this bill does not address the real-life tragic situations in which awful decisions are being made.

This bill is not the way we should be addressing the problem of unwanted pregnancies. We should not be criminalizing grandparents or clergy or doctors who try to help young women in horrible situations. We should not be criminalizing that small percentage of people willing to accompany a minor-in-need to obtain an otherwise legal abortion.

Here's the bottom line: If this bill had simply made exceptions for young women in abusive situations--like rape, or incest--and ensured that children who were endangered if they turned to their parents would have a responsible, caring adult to turn to, I would have voted for it. And I guarantee so would all of my colleagues. Mr. President, 100 to 0, that's the kind of statement we could have made--but that kind of unity was sacrificed on the altar of Republican wedge-issue politics.

Of course, parents should be fully involved in all decisions regarding their children, but refusing to take into account possible family dysfunction, including abuse or incest, would be both unconstitutional and unacceptable. It would be dangerous. It would be anything but pro-life. Not every child is lucky enough to have a supportive family, and I can't imagine that any person would fail to understand that it just doesn't make sense for a 16-year-old who has been raped or abused by a parent to get consent from that abuser. There must be a way to bring a supportive and nurturing adult into that difficult decision. This bill forecloses that possibility.


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